Red-zone woes prove costly as Lions drop to 0-4 with loss to Bears
Chicago — The Detroit Lions had plenty of chances to win their first game of the season. Instead, they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot throughout a brutal first half against the Chicago Bears.
Despite driving inside the Bears' 10-yard line each of their first three possessions, the Lions came away with zero points, losing two fumbles and failing to convert a fourth-and-goal.
Left to overcome a 21-point, second-half deficit, another failed fourth down in the red zone ended Detroit’s comeback hopes late in the fourth quarter as the Bears held on for a 24-14 win at Solider Field on Sunday.
"We need a lot of third-down work, we need a lot of red-zone work and so that’s what we’re going to start focusing on (next week)," Lions coach Dan Campbell said. "We’re going to do a ton of work down there. We’ve been able to move the ball pretty good.
"But now we get into some of these third downs, fourth downs, got-to-have-its, when we get in the red zone," Campbell continued. "So we need work, and if we got to do three days of that this week, that’s all we’ll do."
Starting rookie quarterback Justin Fields, the Bears looked nothing like the team that mustered just 47 yards on offense a week earlier in a loss to the Browns.
Leaning on the effective rushing of David Montgomery, the Bears took the opening kickoff 75 yards on 12 plays. The veteran running back carried the ball six times for 31 yards during the series as the Bears bullied the Lions up front, particularly going left, including a 4-yard scoring run for Montgomery to cap the series.
"David has a knack," Bears coach Matt Nagy said. "He has a knack for the red zone. He shows that. He's proven that all year long. He's proven it his whole career."
The Lions responded by quickly navigating into Bears' territory, and found themselves with a first-and-goal from the 8-yard line after Chicago defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga was assessed a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness after hitting tight end T.J. Hockenson after the whistle.
But on the next play, as quarterback Jared Goff was trying to make an adjustment at the line of scrimmage, center Frank Ragnow prematurely snapped the ball. After ricocheting off the chest of Goff, the loose ball was plucked from the air by Bears defensive lineman Bilal Nichols.
"Just trying to make some communication there," Goff said, taking the blame. "It was loud. Miscommunication there."
The Bears would need just six plays to capitalize on the mistake, thanks in large part to a deep ball from Fields to receiver Darnell Mooney for 64 yards. To make matters worse, the Lions lost outside linebacker Romeo Okwara to injury on the play.
Four plays later, Montgomery was back in the end zone, again working around the left edge for the 9-yard score that put the Bears up, 14-0.
It proved to be the final points of the first half, even after the Lions would twice find themselves deep in Bears territory. Failing to gain any yards on three tries from the 5-yard line, Goff's fourth-and-goal pass intended for running back D'Andre Swift was tipped away by linebacker Alec Ogletree.
"I felt like we had two or three good plays that we had answers for what they were going to try to do to us and man," Campbell said. "It didn’t work out."
Chicago would quickly go three-and-out, giving Detroit good field position from their own 43, but after working ball down to the 3-yard line, Goff was stripped by Bears defensive end Robert Quinn on third down with Khalil Mack recovering the fumble.
Detroit started the third quarter with the ball, but went nowhere when Goff's third-down pass for Hockenson was broken up, leading to a punt.
Taking over at their own 23-yard line after a long punt by Detroit's Jack Fox, Chicago marched quickly down the field thanks to a pair of long passes by Fields, twice beating the coverage of cornerback Bobby Price.
The second, a 32-yard connection with Mooney down to the 4-yard line, set up a touchdown run by running back Damien Williams on the next snap.
"Here’s what we can’t allow anymore — I said this before, but we need these young guys to grow at a drastic rate," Campbell said. "...We got to find a way, or we got to find somebody else that can do (the job)."
Detroit finally ended the threat of the shutout with 3:23 remaining in the third quarter.
Starting on Chicago's side of the field after Kalif Raymond was interfered with trying to field a punt, a 22-yard pass from Goff to Hockenson set the Lions up just outside the red zone. Then, on third-and-goal from the 4, Goff found Raymond on a shot throw. The receiver lunged across the goal line to get the Lions on the board, 21-7, after the PAT.
Chicago wasted little time pushing their lead back to three scores, setting for a 33-yard Cairo Santos field goal just before the end of the third quarter. The Lions managed to further cut into the Bears' lead early in the fourth quarter, responding with a second touchdown.
Goff was sharp on the possession, shaking off an early sack to complete five of his six throws for 82 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown to Raymond down the seam. The score made it 24-14 with 11:21 remaining.
The Lions defense nearly came up with a quick turnover on Chicago's next possession when Charles Harris forced Fields to fumble, but the quarterback managed to recover after a mad scramble. Still, the 24-yard loss killed the possession.
"I just know I seen one of my guys attempting to grab it and that's when I tried to jump over the pile and grab it myself," Harris said. "Yeah, I just knew we needed that and that was a heartbreaker."
Despite eating another sack to start the series, and Goff recovering his own fumble on a second hit behind the line of scrimmage, the Lions offense fought out of a hole, thanks, in part, to a couple of defensive offside calls against the Bears.
But instead of kicking a short field goal, the Lions rushed to the line when facing a fourth-and-1 from the 8-yard line. Goff's pass sailed wide of rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown's outstretched reach, marking the Lions' fourth turnover inside the 10-yard line.
"I wish we’d have huddled up and that’s on me," Campbell said. "Should have huddled them up, give us our best play on fourth down and get the first down, get a touchdown, and then we go from there. I wish I’d have done that."
The Lions forced a punt, but jumped offside trying to block it, ending the game.
With the loss, the Lions fell to 0-4 on the season. The team will head back on the road against next week to face another NFC North foe, the Minnesota Vikings. The Bears improve to 2-2 with the win.